Metrosideros excelsa
pohutukawa, New Zealand Christmas tree

Myrtaceae (myrtle family)
New Zealand

The New Zealand Christmas tree is widely grown in gardens in Southern California, especially on the coast, where it puts on a fine display of red blossoms under conditions of wind and salt spray that are very trying for other ornamentals. There are several on 19th Avenue, San Francisco. Flowers resembling eucalyptus flowers come in terminal clusters with masses of red stamens over an inch long. Leathery oval leaves are shiny above and downy below.

One, in the outer southwest island of the Inner Quad, has been sternly clipped into a round table top. While no one to our knowledge has ever observed blooms or fruit on this plant, the leaves and branches fit: lower leaf surfaces densely coated with gray, wooly hairs, secondary veins cryptic, branches hairy, imparting to the plant a gray-green aspect. The short, felt-like hairs covering the leaves are best observed with a hand lens, as are the many punctate glands, characteristic of leaves of plants of the Myrtaceae.

Three street trees were planted in 2012 or 2013 at 250 Cambridge Avenue in Palo Alto, opposite the Post Office. In 2017 at least one of them had bloomed.

A relative, M. villosa, is growing in the courtyard of the east pavilion of the Stanford Hospital. M. collina colonizes lava flows in Hawaii, where it serves as the island’s flower.

Name derivation: Metrosideros – Greek metra (heartwood) and sideros (iron), referring to the hardness of the heartwood.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. Sairus Patel added the Palo Alto locations Jan 2018.